Cylinder

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Introduction

A cylinder cooling after landing

A Martian landing cylinder, fired from Mars across the gulf of space. A cylinder appears to be capable of carrying a number of Tripods and other troops plus colonists and supplies.

The Newsfaxes

1755-1756 T213, In the Outer Darkness: A tumbling shape moved through the void, craggy black surface swarming with glittering, insectile shapes. Plumes of venting gas illuminated the surface of the asteroid fragment as the miners cored into the mile-long fragment of ancient Minerva. Almost imperceptibly, the rock shifted, nudged into line with a distant blue speck shining amid so many jewel-like stars studding the ebon firmament.

A cluster of the mi-go swarmed at the northern pole of the asteroid, moving in their own imperceptible dance of communion and communication. Another plume of gas vented, shining red on their carapaces.

< ready | proper | angled | with sure form! > they chorused.

One of the masters hopped with delight, turning about, febrile cobweb-like wings spreading to catch the starlight. Compound optical nerves - a forest of trembling crystalline worms - focused suddenly on a dark section of sky.

< puzzled | Fomalhaut | absent | void | nothingness >

The others turned to observe the mystery as well.

Three hundred seconds later, they shrieked in fear and the entire colony burst away from the surface of the fragment, ethereal wings humming.

Something rushed out of the greater darkness, vast and smooth, unstoppable. Several hundred of the mi-go were still crawling out of the mining tunnels when the two objects collided. There was a monstrous explosion; the asteroid fragment, already bored and chewed, shattered into thousands of pieces. The device crumpled, front-end smashed in, and voided atmosphere explosively. Secondary explosions rippled along the smooth skin, and then everything was engulfed in a brief blast of flame.

The void swallowed the remains, flames snuffed by a lack of atmosphere to sustain them. All was silent.

1763-1764 T217, Nemesis: “Captain! There is… I see something to… to port!”

Valgardsson and Windrider turned as one, staring at the sailor standing watch on one of the many telescopes mounted around the periphery of the ship.

“The… the meteor?” Like the sailor, Valgardsson found speech difficult – his voice sounding tinny – but sound could be managed.

“No,” the sailor gasped, bending close to the eyepiece. “Something shining… long… a cylinder… wait! There is another, and another!”

Valgardsson squeezed in beside the man and took a turn at the eyepiece. For a few moments, all he could see was blackness, and then, shimmering out of nothingness, stars – and now, yes, he could see streaks of reflecting light, and a subtle curve. “I see them.”

An hour later, in the wardroom, the Norsk Aer commander scatched idly at his beard, which was stiff with frost. “There were twenty at least – and I will swear on the Madonna’s icon they were machined – cylinders with rounded ends, but straight as a die longways.”

De Marigny nodded slowly, as if he understood. Hallestrom, however, stared perplexed at the two Companymen.

“What are they?” The Swede turned to Colonel Mason, who had been guided into the room for the conference. He saw only his own distorted reflection and the Dane said nothing. Old Windrider sighed, biting at his thumb. “Do you know?”

“There are rumors…” Valgardsson started to say, temporizing, but De Marigny immediately shook his head.

“Tell him,” the philosopher said, disgusted. “There’s little reason to fear for his loyalty now that we live only by means of his serum.”

“My loyalty?” Hallestrom looked stricken. “Who doubts—“

“Bernard is correct,” Valgardsson said without apology. A faint, wintry smile touched his lips. “Are we not accompanied by a Danish officer?”

“Ha (click-click-click) ha.” Mason said, hollowly.

“Mr. Hallestrom,” the Nörsk officer said bluntly, “we are not alone, even at this height. It is very likely those cylinders are ships something like this one we ride, but while we seek Nemesis, they are falling to the Earth below after a long, long journey.”

“What? From where?”

“From the fourth planet, Mr. Hallestrom. From Mars.”

Hallestrom stared at him in puzzlement. “But… Mars is a dead world… with a vanishingly thin atmosphere, with no open water, with… nothing…”

“(whiirrr) (click) (click) … indeed.”

The Swede looked around the room, expression filling slowly with dread. “Some civilization still endures under such hellish conditions? And they are—”

“Fleeing, Mr. Hallestrom,” De Marigny said, drifting over to pat the younger man on the shoulder. “Seeking the only living world within reach. Our Earth.”

“An invasion?”

Valgardsson nodded. “The first blows have already been exchanged. In South America.” He pushed away from the wall. “But we have larger issues at hand – if Nemesis strikes the Earth, then these visitors from foreign shores will be the least of our worries…”

1767 – 1768 T219, The War Against the Ten Thousand (the Tzitzimime)
August: Captain Delmas, commanding the French “Grasshopper” regiment, infiltrates his men into Chana, where they hope to interdict the Tzitzimime supply lines up to Omaguaca. To their surprise, the region is not yet overrun with the dreadful Weed and the (human) peasants are still toiling in the fields – though now with new masters.

Delmas and his men advance to the highway, whereupon they are witness to the actual landing of a cylinder plunging through the atmosphere and crashing to earth in a great gout of steam and dust. Taking careful notes, the Grasshopper commander watches in steadily mounting horror as the massive metal object (longer, he guessed than the Cathedral of Saone was high) settles to earth, pinging as it cooled, and then one end began to unscrew…

September: Delmas’ observation of the loathsome machines crawling out of the cylinder – and the troop of hideous creatures which arrived soon after to greet the new arrivals – was broken off by the approach of six of the walking, tripod-like machines from the north.

He and his men fled the scene, keeping to the trees and in culverts, a wary eye on the clanking war-machines around the highway. Sadly for Delmas, the tripods appearance was only a flourish… the beating of pantan-drums to flush the khelekit from cover. The Grasshoppers ran directly into a hidden line of the enemy and were obliterated in a fierce, hand-to-hand action.

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